Usain Bolt and the Joy of Excellence

In case you did not know before tonight, Usain Bolt enjoys being the fastest man in the world. He takes absolute, childlike joy in it. “I’m faster than literally everyone on planet earth, and that’s pretty cool,” Usain Bolt thinks to himself, often in the middle of his epic runs.

And do you know what I say? I say good for Usain Bolt. I say it isn’t bragging if you can do it. I say if you can’t be happy about being the best on planet earth at something – whatever that something is – then what can you be happy about?

Usain Bolt’s face in the picture above is an especially prominent display of an urge that is good and to be applauded – the urge to take pride in a career performed well. To have a skill and take joy in it. The dignity and self-satisfaction of any job well done.

Ben Sasse last night said that the world economy is changing – and he’s right. Back in the 70s, the average career at an American firm was 30 years. The average is now 3.8 years and shrinking. We are living in an economy where adults are going to have to be constant learners – learning one skill for life will be a losing game. Every few years, technologies will make given skills obsolete or redirect them to other uses. Overcoming these difficulties is not insurmountable but what we should be equally concerned with doing is the loss of dignity and pride that comes with a successful long-term career with the same company – and the joy of knowing you are damn good at your work, whatever that might be.

We can provide a stable economy for adults that are constantly changing careers in in the modern world. What’s less clear is whether we can competently recapture the dignity of work somehow, to meet man’s need to smile at excellence in his work.